One of eBay's most under-appreciated sales tools is the Best Offer option on Fixed Price and Store listings. Why? If Buyers and Sellers would just follow a few simple Best Practices for using it to its best advantage, it can really benefit both parties. Buyers get bargains, and Sellers move merchandise.
Here's how it works: When listing a Fixed Price or Store item, the Seller has the option of allowing Buyers to submit their Best Offer (just check the box that says "Allow buyers to submit their Best Offers for your consideration." under the text box where you put in the price on the Sell Your Item form). Buyers can do so by clicking the blue Make Offer button on the Fixed Price or Store listing page. The Seller then has 48 hours in which to accept the offer, decline the offer, or make a counteroffer, at which point the Buyer then has 48 hours to accept the counteroffer, decline the counteroffer, or make a counter-counteroffer. In any case, once that 48 hours is up, or if the item ends in the meantime, or if another Best Offer is accepted, yours will expire. Buyers can make up to three offers per item.
BEST OFFER FOR BUYERS (SELLERS TAKE NOTE)
First of all, you must understand that if you as a Buyer don't take advantage of the Best Offer option, then you're leaving money on the table. Seeing that blue "Make Offer" button is like a red flag stating that the Seller is willing to be negotiable on their price. Of course, Sellers love it when Buyers don't use Best Offer for whatever reason, because it's that much more money in the bank. So if you feel compelled to pay the full Fixed Price for whatever reason — or you're afraid to make an offer because someone else might snatch up your coveted item in the meantime — then by all means, please buy it now. But it really does pay to make that Best Offer first.
Second, be aware that most Sellers jack up their Buy-It-Now price by some margin so as to leave some haggling room. I've even heard from quite a few who double it. That seems a little extreme, but it should leave plenty of opportunity for you to score with a lowball offer.
Speaking of lowball offers, here's something else you should know: If you make a ridiculously low offer, you run the risk of antagonizing your Seller. Here are some examples from real life: $4 for a $20 sterling silver ring; $29 for a $148 18K gold and sterling silver retired Tiffany & Co. brooch; $42 for an $85 one-of-a-kind B Johnson handmade Liberty silver dollar pendant. Are you trying to waste your own and the Seller's time, or are you really interested in the item? Let's give you the benefit of the doubt, and assume that maybe you're just testing the waters. That's why eBay invented the counteroffer.
If you are lucky enough to encounter a Seller who has the sales savvy to utilize their counteroffer option, and you receive a counteroffer to your offer, then lucky you! It means that the Seller is indeed willing to be a little flexible on the price in order to make the sale. You can accept their counteroffer, or you can send the Seller a counteroffer (really a counter-counteroffer) for their consideration. They can then accept your counteroffer, decline your counteroffer, or come back with another counteroffer (a counter-counter-counteroffer, for those who are keeping track). Remember, Buyers can make up to three offers per item.
Yes, Buyers can make up to three offers per item. That's worth repeating, because it means that even if the Seller declines or ignores your original Best Offer, you can always make another one — and one more after that, if necessary. So if you really want the item and your initial Best Offer is declined, make another offer. And a third offer, if necessary. If you don't ask, you won't get. And don't waste your energy thinking that the Seller just doesn't like you, or has it in for you because they declined or ignored your offer. This is business for them, so be businesslike. It's just like haggling at a flea market or garage sale — it's nothing personal.
While you're using Best Offer to communicate to the Seller your desire to buy their item, don't overlook the opportunity to communicate with your Seller as well. There is a text box labeled Additional Terms, and you can write anything you like in there up to a limited number of characters. Maybe you want the amount you're offering to include shipping (not necessarily a good idea, by the way; most Sellers look at shipping charges as a separate line item from item profits, and they use it to cover not only the cost of actually shipping the item but also their expenses for packing materials and even time and gas expended on trips to the post office). Or maybe you want the item as a gift for your sick friend (or want to claim you do). Or maybe you're close to broke and can't afford to offer much more (or want to claim you are).
I'm not advocating lying to the Seller, but I do recommend that you use the Additional Terms box to say something, because it puts the transaction on a much more personal level and reminds the Seller that there's a real human behind the dollar amount offered. I usually say something like, "Thank you for offering this terrific item and for considering my Best Offer. I look forward to your reply. BTW, I pay immediately via PayPal. :)" That's more subtle than saying, "If my Best Offer is not acceptable, please feel free to make a counteroffer" but hopefully still opens the door for the Seller to make a counteroffer or at least actively decline your offer as opposed to just ignoring it until it expires (which is really frustrating, because then you're left hanging wondering if the Seller has even seen it).There's enough characters that you could add that additional line to the first verbiage I quoted, but then you are implying to the Seller that you too are willing to be flexible. If that's the case, then by all means, say so if you like. It just depends on how hard-nosed you can stand to be. Remember, haggling is like a game of chicken in some ways. It's definitely a test of nerve and skill.
My personal preference is to just say "Thank you for offering this terrific item and for considering my Best Offer. I look forward to your reply. BTW, I pay immediately via PayPal. :)" and leave it at that. Because really, the ball is in my court either way; maybe the Seller will counteroffer, but if they don't, then I can just make a second or even third offer. Again, I will use the Additional Terms box to talk to the Seller: "I hope this Best Offer will be acceptable to you. I appreciate your consideration and look forward to your reply. BTW, I pay immediately via PayPal. :)" Not only is it smart to communicate with your Seller, it's also courteous and gives a good upfront impression of you as a Buyer. And who doesn't like to see a friendly smiling face on the other side of the bargaining table?
Finally, timing may be everything when it comes to getting your Best Offer accepted. If you make your offer when an item is close to ending, the Seller may be more willing to discount the price a little more rather than having to pay to list it again. But if you cut it too short, you may not leave the Seller enough time to see and consider your offer. An hour or less probably is not smart. Some Sellers only check their My eBay page once or twice a day, especially if they have day jobs, so allow several hours at least.
Getting back to those lowball offers that may antagonize your Seller, let me tell you how two of the aforementioned lowball offers played out in real life. With the Buyer who offered $4 for the $20 sterling silver ring, we countered at $15. No reply. Conclusion? They didn't really want a ring, they wanted a Crackerjack prize. Fuhgeddaboutit. In the case of the Buyer who offered $29 for the $148 18K gold and sterling silver retired Tiffany & Co. brooch, we counteroffered at $135 and said (because Sellers can communicate with Buyers too; we'll get to how in a moment), "Thank you very much for your interest. We can't go as low as $29, but we can come down to $135. If this is not acceptable, we will be glad to consider a reasonable counteroffer." In other words, I signaled to the Buyer that we might be willing to come down more if they were willing to get real about their offer. But if their first offer had been better, our counteroffer might have been better too. Annoyed Sellers are less likely to be generous about their discounts. And they may even be so insulted, they won't bother with you at any price. I think that's counter-productive for a Seller, but right now we're still talking about Buyers.
If your Best Offer is accepted, follow through promptly. Pay as soon as you can, without having to be reminded (a good buying practice in any case). And don't forget to use the pop-open text box on the Checkout page to leave the Seller a message: "Thank you for accepting my Best Offer. I look forward to receiving this terrific item and will leave you positive feedback when it arrives." (I include some version of this message every time I win an auction, but that's another guide.) I find that the more professional you act as a Buyer — which also is respectful of the fact that this is a business for your Seller — the better a reaction you are liable to get.
BEST OFFER FOR SELLERS (BUYERS TAKE NOTE)
Now that we've got the Buyers trained, let's figure out some Best Practices for Sellers to follow when using Best Offer. First of all, using Best Offer signals your willingness to haggle, so leave some room for negotiation when you set your Fixed Price. Some Sellers even double theirs. You'll have to decide what mark-up works for you. Different price points may dictate different strategies.
Next, fix your mind-set: This is business, and emotions have to be kept in check when considered in comparison to your desire for sales, which should be paramount. Remember that lowball offer of $42 on the $85 one-of-a-kind B Johnson Liberty silver dollar pendant? We countered at $60, and they came back with an offer of $45. That's just rude. In fact, it ticked off my listing client so much that his first response was to say, "Tell 'em that now our counteroffer is $75." I discouraged that, suggesting we go back to them at $60 again and give it one more shot, but he had seen the offer shortly before I did and worked up a real mad-on over it by the time we were discussing it, so he ended up just telling me to ignore their offer.
My opinion? If we'd gone back to them with our original $60 offer, pointed out that it was a pretty good discount from $85, and reminded the potential Buyer that it was a one-of-a-kind piece by a famed Native American silversmith and contained a goodly amount of both pure and sterling silver, the Buyer might have caved and bought it at $60. Or maybe they would have come back at, say, $55, at which point we might have caved and sold it. Now we'll never know, because I had to just sit back and let their (admittedly puny and insulting) offer expire. We could even have harnessed the energy of that initial mad-on to our own advantage: My client was angry because he felt that their going from only $42 to only $45 was a real slap in the face/screw-you kind of move, but if we'd just stood firm and counteroffered again, we could have had the last word.
To put it in terms my client could have understood at that point in time, if we countered again at $60 and they still didn't accept or even get real with their third offer, then we could feel like we'd said, "no, screw you" because we'd have refused to sell them the item. And if they did cave and accept our second counteroffer, or at least got real and made a third offer we could accept, then we can say "screw you" again because they bought on our terms plus we got money for it.
Leaving out the "screw you" mentality (remember what I said about not letting emotion get in the way of doing business?), what it boiled down to is that worst case, we still have the item and can look forward to receiving a better offer for it, or best case, we sell the item. But since we ignored their counteroffer, we shut the door on the possibility of any sale.
Of course, we also could have come back with a slightly lower counteroffer, but we really felt that $60 was a fair counteroffer and we weren't inclined to try to meet in the middle when the Buyer's second offer was still so lowball. Again, it's all about strategy. Psychologically, though, if the Buyer's second offer had been more realistic in terms of meeting us partway, my client might have been more inclined to come down a little lower. Again, we'll never know.
Notice how I've been talking about counteroffers as if they're a given. That's because they should be! Counteroffers should be a no-brainer. If you don't bother to make a counteroffer instead of just declining, then you've done yourself out of a possible sale. Some Sellers even set up their Best Offer rules so that offers under a certain amount are automatically declined. That might be OK if you're a very high volume seller and can afford to turn away possible sales — but who really wants to do that?
The "I don't want to bother with lowball offers" excuse is only hurting you. You've got somebody who has expressed an interest in your item (even if they're being a cheapskate about it), so why wouldn't you want to try to sell it to them? Remember, Buyers can make up to three Best Offers per item. That means they can make an offer; you can counter it; they can make a second offer; you can counter it again; and they can still make one more offer. That's how you do it at a flea market or garage sale, so why not do it on eBay as well if that's what it takes to make the sale? Don't tell me you don't have time; it only takes a minute or two (plus a little thought and possibly some profit recalculation on your part) to deal with a Best Offer. You are in business to make sales, right?
So counteroffers are essential. And there's another important part of every counteroffer: the opportunity to talk with, or at least to, your Buyer via the text box that's present on the counteroffer page. Use all of the characters they give you. For example: "Thank you very much for your interest. We can't go as low as $__, but we can come down to $__. I hope this may be acceptable to you. This beautiful whatever-it-is is a rare estate piece in excellent condition." So you've thanked them for their interest, courteously expressed the hope that your counteroffer will be acceptable, and extolled the virtues of the item you're selling. You might even want to say, "I hope this will be acceptable to you. If not, please feel free to make a counteroffer" if you're willing to maybe come down a little lower. Just as for Buyers, if you don't ask, you won't get.
Re: timing, some Sellers feel that it's good strategy to wait awhile to reply to a Best Offer, so the Buyer has to sweat it. Obviously that won't work if there's not much time left to begin with. The other point of view is to respond right away so you strike while the iron is hot. You'll have to decide for yourself which strategy will work when.
So here it is in a nutshell: Keep your cool, counteroffer, and communicate. It'll work for Sellers, and it'll work for Buyers too. Now go make Best Offer work for you!
p.s. At the time I wrote this guide, there were six other Best Offer guides in eBay's Reviews & Guides @ http://reviews.ebay.com. By now, there may be even more. Read them too, for tips I may not have covered or even thought of. Find them by searching for keywords "best offer, counteroffer". And as a loyal OBS member, please take a moment to vote for my eBay Best Offer Guide, which is linked from the title of this blog post. I'll do the same for you when the time comes! Thank you!